Written By Sarah Griffin - Sarah is a NorCal-born, Denver-bred writer and astrologer. She focuses on what it's like navigating the rocky waters of mid-thirties dating and the struggle to balance emotional security with personal freedom, hobbies with work, and wine with pizza. She's an eldest child Libra and would live in the bathtub with a stack of books if she could. Twitter: @rockfacesarah_8 Instagram: @bofffquafff
I don’t remember how I heard of Bikram yoga, but living in Denver, Colorado, where we are regularly in the top-ten healthiest cities in the U.S. (Forbes), words like “5K”, “Kale chips” and “Bikram” are interjected regularly and casually into most conversations. Most people here have an activity of choice, be it the ever popular marathon and half-marathoners, swimmers, road bikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, hikers, and of course, yogis, just to name a few. I chose yoga, specifically hot yoga. Everything I read said the heat would loosen and lubricate my joints, increasing flexibility. I’ve also always been a sucker for a steam room and a detox, and I liked the idea of consistently sweating the residual toxins from the beer and pizza I consume on a fairly regular basis.
I was quiet about my decision initially. I thought that I’d be judged and whispered about when I stepped into the class. I thought everyone would be fit and bendy, with perfect yoga ponytails and perfect posture. I had taken the proverbial plunge and signed up for a month of unlimited yoga and didn’t want to announce to my friends and family that I was planning to embark on one of the most rigorous exercises known to man when I couldn’t even run a full quarter mile. What if I couldn’t make it through class? What if I hated it? What if they all laughed at me? I girded myself for humiliation from the get-go, so that if I did fail, no one would know my embarrassment.
I didn’t fail though, because with yoga, there is no failing. My beloved instructor saw a determination in me that no one else saw, not even myself. She told me, after my first class, where I couldn’t get into a proper squat and had to do all my balancing postures with the support of a wall, that she loved the energy I brought to the class. It was all I needed to hear to come back for more. When I’d hit a wall, or get frustrated at my perceived lack of progress, she’d simply guide me into a modification and repeat her mantra to me, yet again.
“This practice never gets easier. It only gets better.” The words, to this day, are a balm on my soul.
I now weigh almost 100 pounds less, thanks to a combination of spin, yoga and non-invasive bariatric surgery. I have the blood pressure and heart-rate of Lance Armstrong, and on the days I have enough time to attend a morning class, I carry a dewy glow with my throughout the rest of the day. These are just a few of the benefits I’ve gleaned from yoga. The big ones though, are the changes that came from the inside that I want to share.
1. True Body Acceptance
Yoga, because almost anybody can do it, taught me to view my body as a tool and not a burden. There are days I look in the mirror (like any other mid-thirties American woman living in our current society), and I see nothing but imperfection. Everything is too pale, too soft, too scarred. The nose is too big, the ankles too thick, the breasts too droopy.
Those are the days I don’t want to go to yoga, because the thought of staring at myself in the mirror for 90 minutes makes me want to cry. Those are also the days I force myself to go. Very recently I was having one of these kinds of days, and I hated my reflection so much I avoided making eye contact with myself. As class wore on, and I went deeper into my practice, I remembered that if I don’t focus on my eyes and my breathing, I’d fall out of posture. I remembered if I keep my eyes closed throughout practice, I come out of alignment. I have to look at myself, and all my imperfections, if I’m going to excel. By the end of practice all I could see was my long neck, my flushed chest drenched with sweat, the arms and shoulders that lifted me into a headstand and the roses in my cheeks. All I could see was the body I walked in with, the body that belonged to me.
2. Living In The Moment
I’m the queen of the ‘what-ifs’. If real crystal balls that told the future were sold I’d be first in line. I can find reasons to panic about anything and everything, counting the ways I’m inadequate. I’ll think about how even though I have a degree, it’s probably not from a good enough university, and maybe I should go to graduate school. Even though I have a job, the company is on the small side and I miss the security of a large corporation-should I make yet another shift? What if my dogs get sick? What if I never get my debts paid off? What if my car breaks down? You get the idea. It’s enough to drive anyone mad.
You do a lot of core work, first of all. It’s the hallmark of any good fitness program. You also REALLY get to know your body and how to be comfortable with it. You get used to being a sweaty red-faced mess, so worrying that your partner might not think you look 100% when you’re in the throes of passion is pretty far from your mind. Plus they’re usually awfully pleased by all that bending and flexibility (reverse cowgirl, anyone?)
Without proper hydration, you will pass out. I learned the hard way too, that you cannot make up for not hydrating properly during the day by chugging a bunch of water in class. You will throw up. By properly hydrating, you’re not only giving your body what it wants- water- but you’re cleansing your complexion from the inside and naturally reducing your appetite. Results? A slimmer you with clearer skin.
It’s common to mitigate stress though overeating or over-drinking (I speak from experience.) While we’re all entitled to a day or two over-indulgence, there’s nothing worse than going to a yoga class with an overfull belly. With all the standing, sitting, bending and stretching in 114-degree heat, the chances of you vomiting or breaking wind are pretty darn high. The best way to manage this is to manage your intake of alcohol and grease. Plus there’s no chance you’ll have a distended belly or have sent a regretful text (or three) after a 90-minute Bikram class.
6. Street Cred
I mean come on-90 minutes of yoga in a room heated to 104 degrees and sitting at around 40% humidity?
You a bad bitch.